Monday, 26 October 2015

The Kingdom and the Cave by Joan Aiken

My recent reading has been less spooky than I expected it to be. I took out all of those old ghost anthologies and I read a bunch of stories… but I don’t think I’m in the mood for horror, overall. I want something brighter and more optimistic, even if it is Halloween this week…

Over the weekend I read two wonderful volumes – both new out.

The first is a new Virago reprint of the first novel Joan Aiken wrote, when she was just seventeen. (Virago have been picking out some good additions to their Modern Library in recent times – I’ve enjoyed Stella Gibbons, Angela Thirkell and PL Travers this year, all in fancy new covers.) ‘The Kingdom and the Cave’ is a kind of fairy tale involving young prince Michael, who learns to speak several animal languages and goes off to save his kingdom from the terrible folk who live Underneath… It’s a book that takes a little while to get going, I think, but there are lots of thoroughly charming incidents and characters – earthworms and eels, a friendly horse and a rather feckless wizard - and the cats, in particular, are very funny.

It seems like an essential book, to me, for any real Joan Aiken enthusiast (it was first and last published in 1960.) Now I’m really looking forward to ‘The Serial Garden’ – a single volume collecting up the linked stories about the Armitage family. I’ve read several of these, sprinkled through anthologies over more years than I can even count – so I’m looking forward to reading them all together.

The other book I enjoyed this weekend – almost more than any other this year – I’ll wait to tell you about next time.

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